By David A. Schwartz, Florida Jewish Journal
When the High Holidays begin in a few weeks, a Chabad Lubavitch rabbi will be on the bima at Young Israel of Pembroke Pines, which will be known as Young Israel/Chabad of Pembroke Pines. The Orthodox synagogue at Century Village introduced Rabbi Shimon Andrusier, 38, and Rebbetzin Liba Andrusier, 35, to the congregation at an Aug. 24 open house.
“We’re all together. We’re trying to be as much as possible a community here to help each other,” Shimon Andrusier told an audience of about 70 people.
“The synagogue is a place for community” and everyone is there for each other, Liba Andrusier said. “Seniors definitely have a place in my heart,” she said, explaining that she was a case worker in Brooklyn for two and a half years and her clients were seniors.
Young Israel/Chabad of Pembroke Pines is the second paring of a Young Israel Synagogue and a Chabad Lubavitch rabbi in Florida and the third in the United States, said Herb Goldsmith, a Young Israel of Pembroke Pines member since 1996. There is a Young Israel/Chabad synagogue in Palm Harbor, near Clearwater, and one in Tucson, Ariz.
“The congregation is shrinking. We’re not attracting new members,” said Goldsmith, 78, Young Israel’s gabbai (an individual who assists with the reading of the Torah) for 12 years.
The synagogue had almost 250 members in 2002. Today, it has a little more than 60 members and their average age is “well into the 80s,” Goldsmith said. He added, 98 percent of the synagogue’s members live in Century Village and two-thirds of the members are women.
“By bringing in the Chabad, we were hoping it would attract new members to boost our congregation,” Goldsmith said. “Already we’ve heard from a number of people who want to join.”
Synagogue president Andrew Schwartz, 85, said, “I have to call people to come to services.” Schwartz said he has to help to get enough men to make a minyan.
“It’s a change from the old rabbi,” said Bernard Silvert, 71, a Century Village resident since 2007. “We’re going to come from the last decade to a new decade with much more gusto.”
He added, “The new synagogue is going to increase 10-fold. Please God, we’ll go on and on and on.”
Tova Ben Yehouda, 68, said the synagogue’s members are looking for “somebody to pray for us; somebody to pray with us; somebody to lead us.”
Shimon Andrusier has three cousins in the area, including Rabbi Pinny Andrusier of Chabad of Southwest Broward and Rabbi Mordechai Andrusier of Chabad of Pembroke Pines. He came to the shul from a Chabad in Albany, New York.
“Growing up in Chabad, we always want to help people, to encourage people to do mitzvahs,” said Shimon Andrusier, who was raised in Brooklyn.
Asked if he thought leading the elderly congregation in Century Village would be a challenge, Andrusier said, “I didn’t think of it as a challenge but more as an opportunity.”
Liba Andrusier said, “I don’t see any challenges. If anything, I’m looking forward to being with a population of people who have a lot of experience in life. I look forward to learning from them. They know what’s important in life.”
The rebbetzin said she wants to get volunteers to visit people in their homes and encourage them to come to the synagogue, and “just be there for them.”
Retired Rabbi Joel Bagley, 83, a synagogue member for 24 years, said, “This rabbi represents closeness, friendship and unity, and that’s what we have to have.” He added, “This is a house of prayer for all people. It will be an open place.”